Feature

Women forging creativity: Less talk, more action

Robyn Frost, a student at School of Communication Arts London, was told she would never make as much money as adland legend Nils Leonard. Here, she explains why it is time to take female ambition seriously.

Women forging creativity: Less talk, more action

Wonder who you are, reading my words – a senior copywriter, an executive creative director, an account executive, a freelance art director. Whoever you are, I have a question for you. I am a white woman. Do you think I should be talking about diversity?

I am a millennial. And you should listen to me. I am the next generation coming into the industry. Excited to start, hungry for success but, more importantly, keen to make a change. 

In April, I wrote a blog post for my ad faculty, School of Communication Arts 2.0, on not being afraid of ambition and why I think students need to help drive diversity and inclusion. It exploded on Twitter. I received messages from industry figures worldwide, all rallying in support for changing the future.  

As Gallop would say: "Fuck you. Pay me." 

Former BBH chair Cindy Gallop, former Grey London chair Nils Leonard and FCB’s Liz Taylor are just three of the people who helped open up the conversation – which is still going today. When Taylor wrote "a relentless spirit and talent will get you everywhere, regardless of gender", I brimmed with encouragement.

When it comes to talking about sexism, racism, discrimination, money, ambition (for which, read: all the things we should be talking about but, hey, taboo), the pressure to always get it right is overwhelming. I have already experienced the backlash of opinion and invective that followed a recent piece I wrote. Why do we shout down those who speak up? 

This needs to change. We need to get vocal. Stand for something. If we are not talking, chances are we are not doing.

There are some things we need to address.  Let us start with diversity – the buzzword on everyone’s lips. As a white woman, I am seeing more and more creative leaders who look like me. But what of the people who cannot see people like them? 

I am very lucky to have some brilliant mentors leading the way, but who are also right behind me. SheSays and Creative Equals are blazing forwards. I can see more people pushing up the ladder. I feel excited, empowered and more ambitious than ever. 

We have only to look at awards juries to see gender equality moving to the fore. Small changes are having a much bigger impact – like D&AD replacing the juror title "foreman" with "president". 

In my opinion, we need to move from talking about diversity to championing inclusion. I think it is important we recognise that the experiences of a white woman will be very different from those of a black woman. As students striving to get in and make a difference from the beginning, we need to listen, then talk, before figuring out as an industry how we can use our differences to create a wider narrative so we are inclusive. 

If agencies hire people from all walks of life, the work will improve exponentially. So why is a broader spectrum of female talent not being tapped into and promoted? 

As it stands, there are too many limits set for women in advertising. And a lot of these stem from perceived notions of what we can or cannot talk about. Totalitarian intolerance, anyone? Today, just 12% of creative directors are women. Are you comfortable with this? Because I am not. 

I aspire to be a creative director, an executive creative director and a chief creative officer and I am not afraid to say it. I want to open my own agencies. In spite of people trying to make me think otherwise, the idea of a management role excites me. 

So isn’t it funny that recently I was told by strangers on Twitter that I would never make as much money as Nils Leonard? "He was CCO! You’ll never get that." "He was a partner of an agency. It’s just not going to happen." 

As Laurel Stark Akman, associate creative director of The 3% Conference, aptly responded: "If you’re laughing at ambition in a female package, your irrelevance is showing." 

Does it make you uncomfortable when I say I want to earn a lot of money? Emphasis on "earn" – I’ll work hard, and deserve what I get. Talking about money is another taboo that has got to go, especially as the gender pay gap is still alive and kicking. 

As Gallop would say: "Fuck you. Pay me." 

I would like to be able to say the word "gender" without eyes rolling. I would like to be able to write this article without being told I am doing it for personal gain. I would like my best friend to be paid the same as her male counterpart. I would like her to be able to raise the issue without being fired. I would like that shit to change.

I would love to see agencies hire people who have not been to university. Find the 17-year-old who spends school lunchtimes in the art room, or the kid who has been writing her own magazines since she was seven. Hire from different parts of our wonderfully diverse society. Finance is a major barrier to starting a career in advertising, so start earlier and find the untapped talent before universities filter people into the haves and the have nots. 

It is not wrong for me to speak about diversity, but I know I cannot speak on behalf of anyone else. I want to learn from the women who are left out of the conversation. Everyone is so scared of saying the wrong thing. Let us talk about it, then let us change it.

I want to be part of a diverse industry. I want to make great work. More than that, I want to work with brilliant people. So if your agency claims to "drive innovation", is "disruptive" and "thinks outside the box", it is time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That is what comes with change.

Hire a diverse range of women from different socio-economic backgrounds. Make them visible. Start being assertive, inclusive and confident. Start now.  

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus